Most Americans know that we are living in the midst of an opiate crisis. For example, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, 9 out of 10 Americans who live in rural areas say drug addiction is a problem. Among those who live in urban areas, 87 percent say the same.
Florida is, in some ways, at the epicenter of the opiate crisis issue. Florida's location makes the area a prime target for drug traffickers, and Florida's history of slow legislative movement means that addiction has grown unchecked for several years, and it will take time for that damage to fade.
We've gathered up some of the most pertinent statistics regarding drug use in Florida, and we will warn you that the numbers are dire. But if you are living with an addiction, there is hope that may not be reflected in this data. There are many addiction centers in Florida that are taking new clients right now, so you have an exceptional opportunity to get the treatment you need to overcome an addiction. You could be part of a trend of healing in Florida, and that could make next year's report a bit brighter.
When clinicians look for numbers to tell them more about drug use, they often focus on death rates. It may seem a little ghoulish, especially as many people who abuse drugs do not die, but there is a good reason for this focus.
When people die, their cause of death is recorded in a public database. In cases of drug abuse, doctors can record the type of drug that caused the death as well as record the fact that the death was caused by drugs.
Since this data is stored publically, it is easy for researchers to parse. The death rates give these experts an idea of what kinds of drugs people are using now and what new drugs might be looming on the horizon to cause future problems.
In Florida, a remarkable number of deaths can be related to opioids. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 5,725 deaths were connected to opioids in 2015, which is a 35 percent increase from the year prior. In these people, opioids were the cause of death, or they were present in a person who died due to another cause.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers like oxycodone and street drugs like heroin, are central nervous system depressants. They cause breathing rates to slow and heart rates to dip. That activity can plunge a person into a sedated state in which vital tissues are not getting enough oxygen or nutrition. If that lasts, people can die due to the sedation they are experiencing. In some cases, this process from drug use to death can take just minutes to complete.
Prescription drugs like oxycodone are designed to bring pain relief to people in need, and their use is meant to be guided by a doctor. But these drugs also cause a spike in feelings of pleasure or euphoria, and some people who take them move from doctor-directed use to drug abuse in time.
For years, experts have been discussing the dangers of prescription painkillers. But in Florida, the message of that danger does not seem to be reaching the people who need it.
According to the Duval County Medical Society, deaths related to the prescription painkiller oxycodone rose 28 percent between 2015 and 2016. That means prescription painkillers killed more people in Florida than street drugs like heroin.
People in Florida who are addicted to painkillers can get the drugs they crave by:
Any or all of these methods can be dangerous, but people with an addiction might be willing to risk those dangers in order to get the drugs they crave. To them, these are reasonable steps to take in order to get drugs.
All prescription painkillers are meant to soothe the symptoms of pain, but some painkillers are stronger than others. The prescription medication fentanyl is one of the strongest substances on the market, and it is becoming a source of big problems in Florida.
Between 2014 and 2015, deaths attributed to fentanyl rose 97 percent, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. This is a shocking rise, and it demonstrates just how serious this risk is for people in Florida.
Fentanyl is not a new drug, but its newfound strength in Florida could be caused by dealers. People who sell drugs often lace their products with fentanyl in order to give each hit a bit more power. That could, in theory, keep customers coming back for more drugs rather than moving to different dealers.
An expert quoted by The Ocala Star Banner suggests that many people in Florida who take fentanyl have no idea what they're taking. That means they could be taking a much more powerful dose than they expected to, and they could overdose because they had not planned for the enhanced power that comes with a fentanyl dose.
Fentanyl is an issue throughout Florida, but some counties have been hit harder than others. According to USA Today, Manatee County had the highest fentanyl death rate in 2016.
While death rates remain one of the most common data sets experts measure in order to determine the impact of drugs, there are other data points that indicate that opioid abuse is on the rise in Florida.
For example, the Florida Medical Association reports that emergency room visits attributed to opioids rose 32.3 percent between 2009 and 2014. These people may have taken a big dose of opioids and needed help in order to avoid an overdose, or they could have experienced an opioid-rated complication, such as an accident or an infected injection point. This rise in numbers seems to suggest that more people in Florida are abusing opioids, and they are paying the price for that abuse.
Other statistics demonstrate the true scope of abuse in Florida and how one person's addiction can impact an entire community. For example, the Tampa Bay Times reports that the number of children pulled from Florida homes due to neglect rose 129 percent between 2012 and 2015, and researchers attribute that rise to the increase in opioid abuse and addiction.
When a person uses drugs, that use doesn't remain hidden and isolated. The choice to use can have a ripple effect, touching the entire family. That ripple can spread to the entire community, causing widespread distress. Statistics like this one suggest that ripple is happening right now, all across Florida.
In order to determine how to best help families in need, experts need access to data. That data can be difficult to come by, as statistics regarding addiction can be spread among dozens of different databases that do not communicate with one another.
According to the Florida Department of Health, a new state surveillance system funded by a grant should help experts to gain access to the statistics they need so they can develop and execute programs. This research could help teams to build new programs for fentanyl, for example, and they could help experts understand where opioid abuse is concentrated, so more prevention dollars could flow in that direction.
As mentioned, opioids are central nervous system depressants that slow breathing and heartbeat rates. Some types of medications can block the action of opioids, removing active ingredients from their receptors and allowing the body to move back into a normal state. These medications are not treatments for addiction, as they do not help people to avoid the temptation to use or abuse drugs. But they can help people to stay alive, so they can access treatment when they are ready.
According to NBC News, Florida's governor declared opioid abuse a state public health emergency in 2017, and as part of that declaration, anti-overdose drugs would be given to first responders, such as police officers, paramedics, firefighters , and emergency medical technicians. This access could allow a first responder on scene to deliver lifesaving medications right away, so a person in the midst of an overdose has immediate help when it's needed most.
This kind of initiative has been helpful in other states. According to the Pew Research Center, drug death rates dropped in 14 states between July 2016 and July 2017, and that dip has been attributed in part to medications.
But during that same time, Florida's death rate did not drop. Instead, Florida saw a spike in deaths. Clearly, Florida has work to do in order to curb dangerous drug use and addiction.
As we have mentioned, addictions are not just personal issues; they are communal issues. Every time someone with an addiction holds drugs, that person has a choice to make between making the community better or worse. Those who choose to get treatment are making a vote for the health of their community.
Treatment programs for opiates begin with detox. Here, you have the opportunity to gain your sobriety in a supportive, medically supervised environment. You may feel discomfort as your body adjusts to the lack of drugs, but you will have staff available to provide you with therapies that can keep you from feeling so ill that you are tempted to relapse.
After detox, you're offered the chance to learn more about your addiction and your triggers. Here, you will have access to a counselor who can help you unpack the reasons you began using drugs. You can learn techniques you can put to use when you are tempted to relapse. With time, you can learn how to live a healthy and happy life without any drugs at all. This process takes time, but at the end of it, you will have the skills you need to live a sober life.
In Florida, there are hundreds of organizations that can help you to get sober. There are state-run organizations that can help you get treatment even if you cannot pay for that care, and there are private facilities that can provide you with a tailored sobriety experience based on your personal preferences.
As Fatal Overdoses Rise, Many Americans See Drug Addiction As a Major Problem in Their Community. (May 2018). Pew Research Center.
Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons by Florida Medical Examiners: 2016 Annual Report. (November 2017). Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Report Shows ‘Staggering’ Drug Deaths in Florida. (November 2017). Duval County Medical Society.
Availability of Drugs Is Having a Deadly Effect. (March 2018). Ocala Star Banner.
Florida Governor Signs Major Bill to Combat Opioid Epidemic. (March 2018). U.S. News and World Report.
A Nation in Crisis. Florida Medical Association.
Opioid Epidemic Is Driving Thousands of Florida Children Into Foster Care, Study Finds. (January 2018). Tampa Bay Times.
Florida Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (FL-ESOOS) Program. (August 2018). Florida Department of Health.
Florida Gov. Declares State's Opioid Epidemic Public Health Emergency. (May 2017). NBC News.
Overdose Deaths Fall in 14 States. (February 2018). Pew Research Center.